President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has warned that Turkey's army could restart its ground offensive in northeast Syria if Kurdish fighters from the People's Protection Units (YPG) do not pull back from a so-called safe zone under a five-day ceasefire.
"If the promises are kept until Tuesday evening, the safe zone issue will be resolved. If it fails, the operation... will start the minute 120 hours are over," the Turkish leader told reporters during a briefing in Istanbul on Friday.
He said the Turkish armed forces would remain in the region "because the security there requires this." Erdogan added that there had been no issues so far.
The “safe zone” would be 32 kilometers (20 miles) deep, and 444 kilometers (275 miles) long, he said, and “not between (the Kurdish-populated towns of ) Kobani and Tal Abyad.”
Erdogan said the region between the towns of Tal Abyad and Ras al-Ayn had been cleared, “but this is not over. The process is ongoing.”
The Turkish president then pointed to a letter from US President Donald Trump, who had called for a deal to avoid conflict in northeastern Syria.
Turkish-language CNN Turk television news network reported that Erdogan had rejected the request, and Trump’s letter was “thrown in the trash.”
Erdogan said on Friday the letter was not in line with "political and diplomatic courtesy."
The White House has released the letter from Trump to Erdogan. Parts of it read, "Don't be a tough guy" and "Don't be a fool!"
On Thursday, US Vice President Mike Pence said Washington and Ankara had agreed on a five-day ceasefire in Turkey's attacks on Kurdish fighters in the region.
The agreement followed negotiations between Pence and Erdogan at the presidential palace in Ankara.
Pence said Ankara would pause its offensive, dubbed Operation Peace Spring, for 120 hours in order to allow YPG militants to withdraw 30 kilometers from the Turkey-Syria border.
Once the withdrawal is complete, “Operation Peace Spring will be halted entirely,” Pence told reporters.
EU: Halt in Turkey's operation 'not a ceasefire'
Meanwhile, European Union Council President Donald Tusk said on Friday that the halt of the Turkish operation in Syria was not a genuine ceasefire, calling on Ankara to immediately stop the offensive.
“The so-called ceasefire is not what we expected. In fact, it's not a ceasefire, it's a demand of capitulation of the Kurds,” Tusk told journalists in Brussels.
He added, “We have to reiterate our call to Turkey to put a permanent end to its military action immediately and withdraw its forces and respect the international humanitarian law.”
Turkish airstrike kills over dozen civilians in northeast Syria
Separately, more than a dozen civilians lost their lives in northeastern Syrian when Turkish fighter jets launched an airstrike, despite Ankara’s announcement of a five-day ceasefire there.
Lebanon’s Arabic-language al-Mayadeen television news network said at least 13 people were killed and 70 others injured when Turkish warplanes bombarded a civilian convoy traveling from Tal Tamr to Ras al-Ayn on Friday.
#سوريا: مراسلة الميادين: استشهاد 13 مدنياً وإصابة 70 آخرين بقصف تركي على قافلة للمدنيين توجهت من تل تمر لرأس العين— الميادين عاجل (@AlMayadeenLive) October 18, 2019
Turkish attack helicopter crashes in Syria
In another development, Syria's official news agency SANA reported that a Turkish attack helicopter has crashed in Syria due to a technical glitch.
The report, however, did not clarify where exactly the chopper had gone down, and whether the pilot on board had been killed in the crash or had ejected to safety.
Turkish military officials have yet to comment on the report.
More than 2,300 Syrian refugees seek shelter in Iraq
Furthermore, the United Nations said more than 2,300 people, most of them women and children, have fled fighting in northeastern Syria and crossed into Iraq in recent days.
On October 9, Turkish military forces and Ankara-backed militants launched a long-threatened cross-border invasion of northeast Syria in a declared attempt to push YPG fighters away from border areas.
Ankara views the US-backed YPG as a terrorist organization tied to the homegrown Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), which has been seeking an autonomous Kurdish region in Turkey since 1984. The YPG constitutes the backbone of the so-called Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF).
The Kurdish-led administration in northeastern Syria says the Turkish offensive has killed 218 civilians, including 18 children, since its outset. The fighting has also wounded more than 650 people.
Turkish authorities say 20 people have been killed in Turkey by bombardment from Syria, including eight people who were killed in a mortar attack on the town of Nusaybin by YPG militants on October 11.